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Meituan raises bet on autonomous robots with investment in PuduTech

China’s largest food delivery company invested more than USD 14 million into the robot manufacturer.

Photo provided to KrASIA

Meituan Dianping (HKG: 3690), China’s largest on-demand service provider, is famous in China for its ubiquitous yellow fleet of (for now) human delivery drivers. However, the company has been investing in a future where robots can help, or even replace, people in key services.

The company recently invested more than RMB 100 million (USD 14 million) in Shenzhen-based robot maker PuduTech, which announced on Wednesday the completion of its Series B round, with Meituan as the sole investor, according to 36Kr.

PuduTech, founded in 2016, has rolled out two robots called PuduBot and BellaBot, which all work in restaurants delivering food to diners, in addition to HolaBot, a dish-returning robot. The firm has also developed a series of robots to distribute food, drinks, and even cosmetics inside office buildings, hotels, and airport duty-free shops.

The company’s first product, Pudubot has been sold in more than 200 cities in about 20 countries, according to 36Kr.

Meituan has also started to use unmanned vehicles to deliver goods. Source: Meituan press release

Zhang Tao, CEO of PuduTech, told 36Kr that fresh funds will be used to develop new products, enlarge sales at home and abroad, and explore new applications of its current products.

Prior to this investment, Meituan itself had set up a team in October 2016 to develop unmanned delivery services. The company started testing its delivery robots in 10 office buildings and hotels in Beijing and Shenzhen, KrASIA reported in August last year.

While the firm has released little information about the performance of its in-house developed robots, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Meituan has started to use unmanned autonomous driving vehicles on public roads in Beijing to deliver groceries to its customers, KrASIA reported.

Rising labor demand and overall costs of operations could be some key factors behind Meituan’s efforts and investments in robot technologies. The firm reported RMB 41 billion (USD 5.8 billion) in “food delivery rider costs” in 2019, which refer to wages for their delivery drivers, up from RMB 30.5 billion in 2018 and RMB 18.3 billion in 2017, as shown in its financial reports.

36Kr is KrASIA’s parent company